Wednesday 17 January 2018

Give rugby a try

Role model Nora's sound advice

Brendan Furlong

Nora Stapleton with the Gorey Central School squad and the women's Six Nations rugby trophy
Nora Stapleton with the Gorey Central School squad and the women's Six Nations rugby trophy
The Kennedy Park (Wexford) crew with Nora Stapleton at the tag rugby blitz

Back in 2013 women's rugby flourished when Ireland ended England's six-year reign as Six Nations champions. Two years later the women in green took another major step forward with the winning of the Grand Slam.

Nora Stapleton from Donegal was a key member of that Grand Slam-winning team, wearing the No. 10 jersey at out-half. Nora is now Women's and Girls' Development Executive for the I.R.F.U., working with the four provincial Development Officers to implement initiatives aimed at growing the numbers of girls and women playing rugby.

And those who attended Park Lane, the home of Wexford Wanderers R.F.C., on Thursday morning witnessed more than five hundred girls and boys attend for the Wexford Primary Schools tag rugby finals.

And present to witness the occasion and offer her guidance to the youngsters was the Irish out-half with the Six Nations championship trophy for 2015 in hand, a piece of silverware that was to command much admiration from the young players of the future throughout the proceedings.

The presence of Nora and the championship trophy brought a sense of occasion to the morning's rugby. Under the guidance of Noel Ferguson, a whole range of games were run off with precision and not even the weather dampened the enthusiasm of the young protagonists.

Capped 31 times for her country, Nora spoke of women's rugby and where it now found itself in the short space of five years.

'When we came home from the 2010 World Cup we found ourselves in a new place and knew where we had to take ourselves as a squad. We got into a strength and conditioning programme, increasing our fitness levels and also improving our skills levels. We had the same management team, we got to know each other. We saw where the other teams were and where we had to get.

'In 2013 we won the Grand Slam. In those years we worked to get up to that level, we were more confident. Previously we may have been a bit shy going in against the likes of England and France,' she said.

'I remember sitting down in 2013 and believing that we as a squad had nothing to fear. We had a fine group of players, and an excellent management team. We took one game at a time but we knew we had arrived when we beat England 25-0 in Ashbourne and came away with the Grand Slam.

'We may have shocked everyone out there, but it did not come as a surprise to ourselves. We turned in a performance and everything went our way such was our control. Going into the World Cup we also took one match at a time but the 17-14 victory over New Zealand was a major one, a game never to be forgotten.

'We put our bodies on the line, and reached a high that we had never achieved before that. We were not happy with the way the World Cup finished, losing a semi-final to England,' she added.

'But to top it off, we came home and there was some retirements, new players coming in, new management, but we achieved the Six Nations Championship, a real achievement for a new-look squad and management.'

Nora is now looking forward to two Six Nations Championships before the 2017 World Cup which Ireland will have the honour of hosting.

'We have two championships before the World Cup. It's a real window of opportunity to promote women's rugby and put it really in the public eye. I want more girls to play and enjoy the game of rugby as much as we have.

'Once in it's very enjoyable. We are now part of the High Performance group, which is another step forward, as it teaches us the basics needed to reach the top and stay there, like nutrition, fitness, conditioning and physical strength, also with skills and improved knowledge of the game.

'Two years is not far away but the whole training programme is already in place, with a full-time women's coach, Tommy Tierney, and also a director of the programme.'

This year Wexford had their first women's international in Katie Fitzhenry. 'Katie came into the international set-up this year and won three caps. Katie has done very well, she is part of the Irish sevens and trains full-time,' Stapleton said.

'She has improved immensely and has worked hard. She is just one of the influx of players from around the country now making it through to the international scene.'

Nora, who won an All-Ireland Intermediate medal with the Donegal ladies' footballers, said the younger girls now look on the Irish international team for their role models

'All of the players like to meet the kids. There's a lot of talent out there and once they start playing rugby they love it,' she said.

Her message to the girls of Wexford is quite simple: 'My message is get out there and give it a try. Enjoy it.

'It's a new sport. The World Cup is coming in 2017 so don't be left behind'.

Wexford People

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